Pfalz – Fighter Aircraft from Rheinland the Wine Country

When you type “Pfalz” as an entry in an internet search engine, you shall receive numerous results containing information about a region in the south west Germany that for centuries has been famous for wine production.

However, when you scroll down the results you will find information concerning the Pfalz E.I, Pfalz D.III or Pfalz D.XII. After clicking such link you will learn that those were aircraft built during the Great War in Bavaria in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz. Products of the Pfalz GmbH Flugzeugwerke were well known between 1915 and 1918 and were used by units on all fronts of the war. The Pfalz GmbH Flugzeugwerke produced the third largest number of fighter aircraft in the German Empire.

Creation and development of the Pfalz GmbH Flugzeugwerke

Bavaria as the second largest state of the Keiserreich Germany had its own armed forces including the air service Königlich Bayerischen Fliegertruppen (KBF). The Bavarian government’s intention was to supply its forces with equipment produced by domestic industry. One of the factories producing aircraft was the Gustav Otto Flugmaschinenwerke in Munich. In July of 1913, three brothers, Alfred, Ernst and Walter Eversbush1, supported by funds from Richard, Eugene and August Kahn, built an aircraft factory in Speyr upon the Rhine River and named it the Pfalz GmbH Flugzeugwerke. With limited funds and lack of experience in aviation industry, the owners were forced to buy a licence for aircraft production. Negotiations with the Albatros GmbH works failed as the manufacturer demanded too much money for the licence. The Bavarian Gustav Otto Flugmaschinenwerke factory offered an attractive contract. The company belonged to Gustav Otto, one of the German aviation pioneers and constructor of biplanes inspired by the French Voisin. The Otto biplane with a pusher propeller, powered by a 75 kW (100hp) Rapp engine, seemed to be perfect for the new-born Bavarian air service. Initially the aircraft were manufactured in an empty festival hall in Speyr. The owners’ talks with the City Council resulted in a purchase of 7,000 m² area near the Speyr airfield where they built a factory which launched production in 1914. Meanwhile, the French aircraft manufacturers, brothers Morane and Saulnier, sent a lucrative offer for licensed production of the great Morane L and Morane H. One of the Everbusch brothers, Walter2, was sent to Paris where he graduated from the Morane and Saulnier brothers’ pilot school. Financial conditions put forward by the Marane-Saulnier works enabled the Speyr factory to begin licensed production3 of the Morane Saulnier MS L and MS H aircraft. Their manufacture was launched almost simultaneously with that of the Otto aircraft. Until the beginning of the Great War in July 1914, three Otto, three Pfalz4 A.I (MS L) and three Pfalz E.I (MS H) aircraft were built. The machines were sent to the KBF. The Pfalz A.I and Pfalz E.I aircraft were powered by Oberursel U.0, 60kW5 (80hp) rotary engines.

Pfalz E.IV front view.  Cooling holes in the Oberursel U.III engine cowling and two Spandau LMG 08 machine guns with sights can be seen. The machine belonged to a combat unit – additional Maltese crosses on the undercarriage can be seen. [author’s collection]

The production increased with the outbreak of the war. The Kingdom of Bavaria participated in it as part of the German Reich. The aircraft produced by the factory were sent not only to combat units of Flieger Abteilung but also served at pilot schools. A total of 61 Pfalz aircraft were built with numbers from P.1 to P.616. A breakthrough moment was an invitation to demonstration of synchronization gear, constructed by the Fokker company, that allowed to fire through a propeller arch from a fixed machine gun. The gun was installed on the Fokker M.5 monoplane whose construction was similar to that of the Morane-Saulnier H and thus to the Pfalz E.I. The Fokker was slightly faster, manoeuvrable and rugged7. The synchronized machine gun was also installed on the Pfalz E.I. Like the Fokker monoplanes, the Pfalz E-type fighters underwent such modernizations. The Pfalz E.II was powered by a stronger engine and featured wider wingspan and longer fuselage. The E.II had three sets of wires bracing the wing (also used for its twist8) instead of two in the E.I. The aircraft was powered by a 9-cylinder, 75kW (100hp) Oberursel U.I engine. One hundred thirty Pfalz E.II fighters were built between September 1915 and February 1916.
The Pfalz A.II was the Pfalz A.I powered by the Oberursel U.I engine. Its version armed with a synchronized machine gun was the Pfalz E.III. The fighter’s speed was similar to the E.II but it was less manoeuvrable and its climb rate was lower. In June 1916, seven Pfalz E.III aircraft served in combat units.